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Radicalism, capitalism and historical contexts: not only a reply to Richard Ashcraft on John Locke

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This essay, as the title suggests, is not just a reply to Richard Ashcraft -- although it is certainly that too. Its intention is to say something about the political theory of Locke, about his historical context and about the methodological question of contexts in general. About his political theory, I want to make two or three main points which, I think, have important consequences for our understanding of Locke: that he both appropriates and, on critical issues, deliberately neutralizes the radical ‘discourses’ of his time -- so that, for example, he adopts Leveller premises to arrive at something more like Cromwell's (or even more conservative) conclusions; and that he deprives these radical discourses of their most democratic implications less by excluding people from membership in the political nation than by restricting the rights of membership itself. This means, among other things, that the relevant debate is not the one that has so preoccupied Locke scholars -- namely, the controversy about who is a ‘freeman’ or who belongs to the ‘people’. The decisive question is rather what political rights the ‘people’ have.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: York University, Toronto. Email:[email protected]

Publication date: 1994-03-01

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